We're not unicorns -- we do exist


We're not unicorns -- we do exist

When people, and by people I mean both men and women, find out what I do for a living, it’s always the same response and question, “That’s cool! So you’re on TV?! Why sports broadcasting… do you like sports?”  Now, the inner smartass in me wants to say, “No, I hate sports.  I just think pro athletes are hot and rich and famous, and I just want to sleep with them and hang out in locker rooms!” 

Because unfortunately, that is exactly what many men (and even some women) think. 

But instead, I give the standard explanation: I played college basketball.  My parents were both athletes and coaches and PE teachers so I literally grew up on the baseball field and in the gym, playing every sport I could.  But since I can’t play competitively anymore, I decided covering sports was the next best thing… so here I am.

It’s a conversation that seems harmless, and I really don’t mind sharing my story.  In fact, I’m very proud of my athletic career and upbringing, because I truly love sports and it’s a big part of who I am. But does anyone ever ask a man in sports broadcasting, “Why did you pick that profession… do you like sports?” 

I would guess that has possibly never been asked of a man, at least the latter part. Because for some reason if you were born with a penis, you automatically know how to play sports and can understand sports.  And when a man gets on TV and talks about the Warriors win over the Cavaliers and Stephen Curry’s big night, he is automatically considered qualified and knowledgable.  I mean, does anyone ever think to ask a man who covers the NBA, did you actually play basketball?  We women get that question all the time. I love it when guys say, “what do you know about football, you never played it!”  Which is true - but do you know how many men cover the NFL who never played the game either? 

If we’re comparing resumes, I would venture to say that most of my male counterparts don’t have athletic careers that rival mine.  Did they play Division I sports on a full-ride scholarship?  Were they four-year starters and all-conference selections? Did they set scoring records and get inducted into their University’s Sports Halls of Fame?  I did.  But I don’t hand out my resume when I go to work just so that I can have the same respect as the men around me.

Once I actually had an MLB team executive tell me that he Googled my name when I started covering the team and was impressed to read about my basketball career!  It was like he looked at me in a totally different way.  I suddenly had his respect.  And yet strangely, I kinda liked the fact that he looked me up, so at least he knew I had the credentials to be there.  But unfortunately, that is most often the case when you first start covering a team. The front office, coaches and athletes are quick to judge you based on the very first question you ask… you can almost hear them thinking, “oh boy, let’s see if this woman knows what she’s talking about.”  

When I talk to young women who want to get into this business today, my first piece of advice is to always know what you’re talking about and be prepared to back it up. I tell them to do their homework and be more prepared then the men around them, because every time you open your mouth, you will be judged. And the one time you mess up, mispronounce a name, get a stat wrong, it will be because you are a woman and just a cute skirt who doesn’t know sports. 

That’s our reality in this so called man’s world

And I gladly accept the challenge… because unlike many of my male counterparts, I am a retired athlete, who still needs to fuel my competitive fire.  So bring it on.  I love proving people wrong and showing I can “hang with the boys.”  I don’t even mind when I get that response from a guy at the bar who looks at me and says shockingly, “Wow, you really know your sports.  You’re like every guy’s dream girl!”  Yet another comment I’m sure my male counterparts don’t hear on a daily basis.  But I laugh.  It’s funny and sort of a back-handed compliment.  I get it, it’s not every day you hear a woman talking about a cover two defense over sushi!  But we are not unicorns, we do exist. 

Of course, when I’m not behind the mic, I still really enjoy playing pickup ball and embarrassing dudes on the court, because they immediately assume that I can’t play.  Or playing in a golf charity event and having guys stare in amazement at my long drive right down the fairway, because you know girls aren’t supposed to be able to hit a golf ball… or throw a baseball… or make it rain like the Splash Brothers… or talk a good game!  After all, we’re missing that important piece of anatomy. 

Oh and for the record, when we do have to go into the locker room to DO OUR JOBS, we aren’t trying to check anyone out! Only a man would do that.  

Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?


Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys?

I grew up playing sports. For the most part I played soccer, but I also ran cross-country and track. I skied, snowboarded, and, at one point, I tried gymnastics. (It wasn't pretty.) My two younger sisters did the same. Our parents ran themselves ragged driving us to practices and tournaments, arranging carpools and fundraisers.

It never crossed our minds that we were girls playing sports. It's just what we did. And we loved it!

I didn't realize how lucky I was until visiting my grandparents in rural Ohio one summer. I found an old photo of their high school graduating class. I asked my grandmother what sports she played in school and I'll never forget her answer: "Oh, there were no sports for girls back then. We could cheer for the boys basketball team, but that was it."

I was shocked. I thought that was ridiculous. Why would the girls be treated any differently than the boys? I couldn't comprehend it.

Looking back, I'm so thankful I grew up in a time and environment where that wasn't the case. I can't imagine my life without sports. Not only because it's what I do for a living, but because playing sports throughout my childhood is a big part of what made me the person I am today.

Sports taught me the value of hard work. Being part of a team, I learned how to communicate and work with people to accomplish a common goal . . . and discovered just how gratifying the process can be. I became a teammate and leader who earned respect and empowered others. I made lasting friendships while stuffed like a sardine in a travel van singing Ace of Base at the top of my lungs. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. And I certainly wouldn't be in the position I'm in without them.

Don't get me wrong; it hasn't all been positive. Now that I'm a woman working in sports, I've had other kinds of eye-opening moments. During an interview for my first on-air job I was asked, in so many words, if this is really a career for me or if I had other plans after I found a husband. Once I did land a job, I covered many college football games by myself. There was one small school in particular whose players relentlessly catcalled me on the sidelines. I won't repeat the foul things they said, but I can tell you I went home feeling very dirty (and it wasn't because I was pouring sweat after lugging a camera that weighed half as much as I did from end zone to end zone in the middle of an Alabama summer). Even now, every so often, social media has a special way of reminding me how some people still view women in sports. Surprise -- it's not good.

But if that's the worst I have to go through, I know I can't complain. My only focus is doing my job to the very best of my abilities and working as hard as I possibly can to continue to grow and get better. We've come a long way. I'm so grateful for those who blazed the trail and made it possible for me to do what I do. And, thanks to my grandmother, I will never take my opportunities for granted. My hope is that when my daughter grows up, she will be just as surprised and appalled by some of my bad experiences as I was talking to my grandmother that day.

Taking action: It's time to change long-held perceptions


Taking action: It's time to change long-held perceptions

In the last year, women’s equality issues in sports have become a national conversation. It began with the 'More than Mean' campaign which highlighted the abuse many women, particularly women in public sports roles, face on social media. The video, which featured men reading vile tweets to the women who received them, sparked an avalanche of coverage from national outlets.

The public attention to the misogyny and double standards that still exist in sports media is an important first step, but it's time to move forward and discuss how we turn our anger and frustration into action.

While the name-calling many women receive online is abhorrent, the real problem is rooted in something much more complex -- tradition. 

While some may try, it's hard to deny that women are still viewed by many as the fairer (read: weaker) sex. We have a place in society and often times that place is the box  of “female” roles like caregiver, teacher, mother. 

If women do branch out into a male-dominated career, as many have -- quite successfully -- the emphasis is often placed less on being an asset in the workplace and more on our ... well, take the ‘ets’ off assets. 

Changing long-held beliefs and perceptions however, is much easier said than done. 

I believe it starts with asking for help. The idea of employing men to help reduce sexism may feel counterintuitive, but I think it's essential. Whether we want to admit it or not, women are outnumbered in athletics and we need advocates from these men -- the majority. 

Sadly, we may also need the validation. While this column is anecdotal and a first-person account, the author is brutally honest when he admits to often not trusting what the average women tells him, including his own wife.

Damon Young writes: 

Generally speaking, we (men) do not believe things when they’re told to us by women. Well, women other than our mothers or teachers or any other woman who happens to be an established authority figure. Do we think women are pathological liars? No. But, does it generally take longer for us to believe something if a woman tells it to us than it would if a man told us the exact same thing? Definitely!

I’m fairly certain I couldn’t throw a baseball in a crowded room without hitting a woman who has been doubted by a male colleague, family member, friend or significant other. 

I feel well-respected in my office, but I also know that there are times when I offer an opinion and I can’t help but wonder if it will be taken lightly until a man pipes in with a similar thought process. I look forward to the day when it’s not even part of my thought process. 

When men stop doubting us, it is inevitable women will believe more strongly in themselves. This doesn't make us weak, it makes us human. I would argue it's the same for a male teacher or stay-at-home dad -- once a female believes in their abilities in that role, the men feel more confidence in themselves.

The other piece to the change puzzle is one which may drum up more emotion and dissent. I think as women we must start sharing some of the responsibility for those old habits taking so long to die.

And before you rush to send me a nasty e-mail, allow me to explain, as this view is by no means a way to shift blame to the victim.

Far too often I have conversations with women who succumb to practices and behaviors they are uncomfortable with, not because they have been explicitly told to act, dress, or perform their job in a specific manner but instead because they default to “that’s what the industry expects.” My response? The industry expects it because we allow it. 

We have a voice, and we can't be afraid to use it. Each time we suffer one small injustice quietly, it becomes harder to speak up when something is really at stake. 

As women we face daily challenges that our male colleagues do not: Judgment and expectations around our physical appearance, doubts about our knowledge, and dismissal of our opinions based simply on our gender. 

We can and should say no to the assumption that our value is based on our looks. Women do not “need” to make beauty and “OOTD” (outfits of the day) the focus of their social-media accounts or the most important facet of their reporting or opining. I know plenty of women who are great journalists and sports minds, not just great female journalists and sports minds. When we allow ourselves to be reduced to nothing more than how we look, it becomes that much more difficult to demand we are seen as more than just a pretty face. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t flaunt your beauty, but my hope is we don’t hide our brains. 

We can and should say no to the idea that women are best utilized as hosts, social media and sideline reporters. (Not that there is anything wrong with these roles, but it doesn't behoove me to pretend these stereotypes don’t exist.) There is no reason a woman can’t be a prominent insider, talk-show contributor, investigative reporter, etc. . . . see above.

We can and should advocate for more female executives. I can count on one hand the number of females in decision-making positions I have interviewed with during the course of my 17-year career in sports media. We all know smart, talented women in the field. It is our job to make sure the right people are familiar with their work and know how important it is to have a variety of individuals steering the content and journalists they feature on all platforms. 

We can and should advocate for our female colleagues. Sports media is a limited numbers game. In the age of cutbacks, jobs are fewer and further between. I still think it does us all a disservice when we treat any prospective female co-worker as competition. She may have lost, but Hilary Clinton was right when she said we are stronger together. 

All that said, let me clarify that this does not mean blindly supporting all actions because someone is female. Respect is earned in this industry no matter your gender.

Our current political and social climate has us consuming more information than ever before. Every cause is met with a hashtag and skepticism. Raising awareness about the issues women face in athletics is a good first step, but it's time to keep moving. Words without action will leave us without anywhere to go.